February 17, 2017

Spirit of caring, love of faith are evident in CCSV award winners

By John Shaughnessy

Four individuals were honored during the 21st annual Celebrating Catholic School Values reception and awards program for the archdiocese on Feb. 9 at Union Station in Indianapolis.

Here is capsulized information about the award recipients, who were prominently featured in a page one story of the Jan. 13 issue of The Criterion.

Tom Spencer, recipient of a Career Achievement Award

Background: A member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Spencer has always tried to follow the advice that his mother gave him as a child: “One of the things she taught me in life was that you’re always practicing to become a better Catholic.”

Service: One of the foundations of Spencer’s life and faith focuses on the question, “Are you and I changing other people’s lives?”

Spencer has tried to answer that question by his numerous efforts throughout the archdiocese. He supports the caring ministry of the Little Sisters of the Poor at the St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis.

He’s an advocate of the Women’s Care Center in Indianapolis because of the way it helps pregnant women, encouraging them “to learn more about the gift of life while providing resources to help raise their child.”

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Spencer has also been a longtime member of the Serra Club of Indianapolis, promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life.

Quote: Married to his wife of 36 years, Gayle, the father of two grown children says his main goal in life is to reunite his family with God: “My first job is to get myself, my wife and my kids to heaven. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to know him, love him and serve him.”

Kevin Johnson, recipient of a Career Achievement Award

Background: Johnson gets emotional when he talks about how his life has been touched by the love that he believes is inherent in the Catholic faith.

He remembers the difference his fourth-grade teacher at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) School in Indianapolis had on him during that year when his father died.

He recalls all the support his two children received when they were students at St. Ambrose School in Seymour.

And he’ll never forget the care his son Tommy received when he was a student at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis—a time when Tommy had three serious surgeries at Riley Hospital for Children for a life-threatening condition.

Service: In thanksgiving for all that support, Johnson has served as president of the parish council during his family’s years at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish. He successfully led a $1.2 million building campaign at St. Ambrose Parish. And he has expanded the Special Religious Development (SPRED) program for adults with special needs at his current parish, Holy Spirit in Indianapolis.

Johnson also serves as vice-chairman of the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Commission, and is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Quote: Married to his wife of 35 years, Lori, Johnson says, “I feel like Jesus came here to show us love and compassion. That’s what we’re called to do. I try to do my little part in the process. I fail often.”

Kathy and Van Willis, recipients of the Community Service Award

Background: When Van met Kathy when they were both in law school, he saw how much her Catholic faith meant to her and chose to become a Catholic, too. He also viewed his choice as a way the two of them would eventually follow the example of their parents—going to church as a family and “helping people whenever you can.”

Now married for 28 years, Kathy and Van have tried to set that example of “Catholic service, faith and love” for their four children—through their extensive commitment to their southern Indiana community and their parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany.

Service: Kathy’s involvement at their parish has included serving on its school commission, liturgy committee and faith formation commission while also leading retreats, helping with funeral meals, and writing and editing the parish newsletter. She has also served on the board of directors St. Elizabeth’s-Catholic Charities.

Van has served their parish as an usher, lector, president of the pastoral council, and a volunteer at its soup kitchen. He is currently the president of the board of trustees at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville.

His community involvement has also including working with the Floyd County Head Start program, Goodwill of Southern Indiana, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

As a couple, the two full-time attorneys also have served as co-chairs of a capital campaign at their parish.

Quotes: Describing the impact they wanted to have on their children, Van says, “I started taking them to the soup kitchen at the parish at a young age. It shows them that a lot of people don’t have the advantages they have. And it’s the right thing to help other people.”

Kathy adds, “Everything I do is related to my faith. When you have something that is so important to you, you want to share it. I feel that is the key to happiness. I love to serve. It brings a joy to my life that I want to share with others.” †


(Related: Record $7.1 million raised as annual event celebrates lasting gift of Catholic education)

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